Don Aliquo leads a productive life as a performer and educator. The Pittsburgh native co-founded the jazz studies program at Middle Tennessee state University around the turn of the century. Along with visits to China and Columbia for teaching stints, he has also released several albums under his own name. If one album could increase the tenor saxophonist’s reputation as a strong performer, album number eight, Growth, offers plenty of reasons.
The album captures Aliquo in the company of two different piano-less quartets. Three tracks feature two horns with bass and drums, the other switches the second horn for guitar. Two different rhythm sections fire the musicians, pushing them to increased heights as they interact. But the band already has an advantage since Aliquo’s eight originals contain some sharp melodic contours that expand on a hard swinging format. “Salt and Light” opens by going through a few different sections before the leader and trumpeter Rod McGaha cut loose, sounding liberated by the lack of a harmonic base. Bassist Jonathan Wires responds appropriately to the turns both horns make. Drummer Marcus Finnie adds increased velocity to Aliquo’s playing in “Woman Clothed in the Sun.”
For the second set Aliquo plays up the angular quality of “Pedal Taverns” by overdubbing some bass clarinet, evoking Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” just a bit. “For the Vulnerable” is all bass clarinet, starting rubato before heading into a strong groove. This time, Danny Gottlieb fires the music from behind the drums, providing greater nuance to bright tracks like “Blues for Duffy and Doug”. With Steve Kovalcheck (guitar) and Jacob Jezioro (bass) completing this quartet, this group rivals the first as the ideal setting for Aliquo. Either way the saxophonist can’t miss.
Don Aliquo broadens his horizons with “Growth” which appears on Ear Up. The saxophonist from Nashville offers eight original compositions, open and nervous, in the company of two quartets without piano, with trumpeter Rod McGaha or guitarist Steve Kovalcheck.
Saxophonist Don Aliquo honors the title of ' Growth ' - his eighth album - with a trial by fire. Armed with his tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, as well as two daring pianoless quartets, the Nashville-area artist steps beyond his comfort zone and ventures into more precarious and challenging improvisational terrain.
The eight original compositions by Don Aliquo are both complex and very open, which shows that the leader is expanding his boundaries not only as an instrumentalist and improviser, but also as a composer. “ I wanted to go beyond the basic variations on bebop and hard bop and embrace other sounds, including the avant-garde, ” he explains. " I absolutely wanted to write and perform songs in a more open context that would allow me to surpass myself. "
More than a chart of his personal evolution, “Growth” is also a chronicle of Nashville's burgeoning jazz scene, with compositions that highlight the most colorful corners of the city aptly nicknamed "Music City". It is also logical that Don Aliquo (originally from Pittsburgh) is accompanied in this expedition by the cream of jazz from his adopted city. His mates are trumpeter Rod McGaha , guitarist Steve Kovalcheck (since transplanted to Denver), bassists Jacob Jezioro and Jonathan Wires , and drummers Marcus Finnie and Danny Gottlieb .
The fact of having dismantled the musical safeguards (in particular on the tracks without Steve Kovalcheck, which only leave the bass as a harmonic outline) does not mean that Don Aliquo is moving away from the precipice. Whether it's somersaulting in a marathon solo on Lower Broadway Rundown , claiming rhythmic freedom on For the Vulnerable , or hurtling through the structural maze of Salt and Light , Don Aliquo takes Wayne's proposition seriously. Shorter (an important influence on Growth) that " jazz means 'I dare you'".
Yet melody and groove also remain priorities. In particular, Woman Clothed in the Sun and Blues for Duffy and Doug both feature memorable hooks, the former moving with confidence and the latter with an easy swing. “Growth” reminds us that it's still possible to have fun listening to challenging and adventurous music.
Don Aliquo was born on May 10, 1960 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, Don Sr. was (and still is) an in-demand jazz saxophonist in Pittsburgh and introduced his son to music at an early age. Don Jr. began his own musical practice on the clarinet in elementary school, but his father convinced him that the saxophone would get him more work in jazz. Indeed, he was quickly able to participate in concerts with the groups of Don Sr.
However, by the time he graduated from high school, Don Jr. had already carved out a place for himself in Pittsburgh's rich jazz tradition, working with the likes of trumpeter Benny Benack and playing with saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. He enrolled in 1978 at Duquesne University, then entered Berklee College of Music in Boston (with Duquesne's classmate, Jeff "Tain" Watts), but left Berklee to hit the road with the Tommy Dorsey Band. . After the tour, Aliquo returned to Duquesne to complete his undergraduate and master's degrees.
Although he was throughout a reliable and esteemed saxophonist on the Pittsburgh scene, working notably with drummer Roger Humphries, it was not until 1997 that Don Aliquo recorded his first album, "February Regrets", followed by two years later from “Power of Two”. Soon after, he left Iron City, co-founding (with pianist Dana Landry) the Jazz Studies program at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. His artistic career, however, continues in his new country. He participated in Dana Landry's 2002 recording “The Journey Home” (with legendary vibraphonist and pedagogue Gary Burton); the pianist returned the favor playing on his albums “Another Reply” (2003) and “Jazz Folk” (2006, with bassist Rufus Reid).
The 2010s saw the birth of the recording “Sun & Shield” (2010), the album “New Ties and Binds” (2015), co-led by trumpeter Clay Jenkins, and the album “Live at Hinton Hall ( The Innocence of Spring)” (2019), a duet with pianist Michael Jeffrey Stevens. This decade has also been an opportunity to play and teach in China and Colombia, with a performance in Spain in 2021. All of this has been part of a development cycle for Aliquo, both personally and professionally. " Nashville has evolved tremendously over the past 20 years ," he says, " and in many ways I think I have too ."
(excerpt from the press release in English - translation E. Lacaze / A. Dutilh)
MAKING A SCENE
Veteran reedist Don Aliquo, originally from Pittsburgh, but resident of Nashville for the past two decades, may still be a relatively new name as he is not part of the more publicized jazz scenes in New York or Chicago. Aliquo was mentored from childhood by his father, the still active 93-year-old saxophonist Don Aliquo Sr. The “junior Don” is an educator at Middle Tennessee State University and took some time to compose and perform these compositions which are anything but conventional. He purposely stretched beyond his customary bebop and hard bop into the avant-garde on some of them, playing with two pianoless quartets. It reminds this writer conceptually, though the sounds are different, of this same idea that Ornette Coleman employed on his Atlantic album, Twins.
Aliquo plays both tenor saxophone and bass clarinet as he leads these two Nashville-based units, one featuring trumpeter Rod McGaha (originally from Chicago, bassist Jonathan Wires, and drummer Marcus Finnie (Kirk Whalum, ‘Keb ‘Mo); the other comprised of now Denver-based guitarist Steve Kovalcheck, bassist Jacob Jexioro, and veteran drummer Danny Gottlieb (Pat Metheny Group, Gil Evans, and countless others). Ironically, some of these sidemen have higher profiles than the leader but it’s a testament to Aliquo’s prowess, that
he could tap these talents.
Let’s take the ones with the first quartet listed first, as each plays on four tracks. The opening “Salt and Light” takes its title from a biblical verse and Aliquo’s tenor playing is inspired by intense listening to Sonny Rollins’ trio recordings and attitudinally by Wayne Shorter’s famous phrase, “jazz means I dare you.” Aliquo is definitely in rach mode on his extended tenor solo and also finds some interesting harmonics with McGaha when in unison. Interestingly, the previous reference to Coleman’s Twins is somewhat apropos as that recording featured trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Don Cherry. In Coleman’s outing both of his quartets were playing simultaneously, unlike the singular renderings here. We get a bit more groove and soulful strut in “Woman Clothed in the sun” but Aliquo and band continue to stretch the boundaries, with Finnie exhibiting especially impressive work on the kit.
A couple of titles bear Nashville themes. “Lower Broadway Rundown” is clearly a nod to Rollins’ “East Broadway Rundown” with Aliquo launching a fiery tenor solo inspired by his hero. Finnie’s skittering snares, Wires’ pizzicato statement, and McGaha’s more deliberate trumpet offer balance. The showcase tenor track though, is “Pedal Tavern,” named for Nashville’s BYO tourist bar on wheels. Apparently, there was an incident where it crashed that was the catalyst for the composition. Ironically, he begins on bass clarinet before finding every key on his tenor while Finnie keeps pace with a blistering solo as well.
Just to change things up, rather than present each quartet sequentially, Aliquo breaks that rhythm by inserting the title track between “Lower Broadway Rundown” and “Pedal Taverns.” It begins pensively through the leader’s tenor and superb upright bass from Jexioro while guitarist Kovalcheck mostly comps until it gathers more intensity mid-way through. Following Aliquo’s solo, the guitarist steps in with a declarative turn before the lovely melody is restated. Aliquo switches to his richly toned bass clarinet for the mournful “For the Vulnerable,” a slow building tune where he essentially duets with the bassist, as they reflect on the city’s homeless. Aliquo stays with the bass clarinet for the melancholic “Naked Statues,” another referencing Nashville, specifically a silly incident about a statue of nine unclothed figure in the Music Row Roundabout. Each quarter member gets an individual opportunity in this one. Tempo revives for the closer, “Blues for Duffy and Doug,” a celebration of life of sorts for two close associates who passed during the Covid period. On balance, this may be the strongest quartet tune of the eight, each player turning in spirited takes.
Edgy and expansive, the music lives up to its rather simple, ambitious title.
– Jim Hynes
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Recorded live at Middle Tennessee State University’s Hinton Hall, the release of The Innocence Of Spring (ARC-0736) brings together two veterans of the US jazz scene in saxophonist Don Aliquo and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens. In a live performance of raw improvisational clarity and sensitivity, inspiration from the jazz greats of years gone past is evident. Not just in the modern, bebop, post-bop sound, but in the choice of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington tracks which enclose seven original compositions.
On saxophone, Aliquo’s playing—“smooth as silk...with an unfailing feel for breath and phrasing" (All About Jazz)—combines delightfully with that of Michael Jefry Stevens, described by Cadence Jazz Magazine as “a sensitive pianist who ekes out droplets of sparkling gems or volumes of rushing waves…" In an era where albums are often carefully constructed in a studio, this is a rare opportunity to hear two master improvisors at work live, complete with clapping, laughing, and cheering from the audience at Hinton Hall.
From the git-go, this is a kickin' disc full of chops and imagery, all the players masters of their instruments and the full panoply of colorations inherent in each, working carefully to fill the listener's brainpan with pastoral, urban, suburban, intriguingly odd, and depth-imbued scenarios, often all in a single tune, as the opener, New Toes, more than amply demonstrates. However, even the balladic aspects, such as the stunning Chest Frenzy, are, though much restrained, highly evocative, Aliquo and Jenkins prominent, though not one voice is neglected, everything crucial to the pointillisms involved. You'll have to dig back quite a ways to find another song quite like it…even among the deluge of truly great discs issued over the last decade.
Aliquo's extremely supple in the addressal of his axe but always zeroed in on what he's describing, not just re: impressive chops qua chops, and Jenkins is complementary to a very high degree.
JAZZ WEEKLY REVIEW
Tenor saxist Don Aliquo teams up with trumpet Clay Jenkins to front a band including Harold Danko/p, Rufus Reid/b and Jim White/dr. The all stars talents are used well here, creating a band that gives homage to the post bop sounds of ESP era Miles Davis with more intricacy and intellect. There’s some nice bopping brush work along with a hip bass line for Aliquo’s horn on “ Senor Silt” and a slinky blues is a relaxed setting for the bluesy “Another Cold Front.” Lines are traded back and forth on “New Ties” and the band shows assertiveness on the driving “Glory” while the lovely “The Grand Entrance” shows the two horns at their most lyrical. Aliquo does some serious squawking and gets into some arm wrestling with White on “The Bandit” and through it all Reid is the embodiment of symbiotic support, laying down irresistible yet flexible grooves throughout. Impressive and professional modern art.
REVIEW -GRADY HARP
If anyone doubts the timelessness of classic jazz, one listen to saxophonist Don Aliquo and pianist Beegie Adair’s Too Marvelous for Words will convince them otherwise. “We were visualizing vintage, mid-Fifties, Be-Bop feel” states Beegie – and they fully captured it. Sometimes that intent can create a somewhat nostalgic feel, losing the immediacy that is at the core of all great jazz. In the hands of these two masters, quite the opposite occurred. The listener is instead transported into the mindset of that spectacular era, complete with all of the excitement, urgency, and joy of adventurous discovery that were its hallmarks.
Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk
Nashville-based tenor saxophonist Don Aliquo plays with a dextrous technique and a breathy, almost muffled tone. He leads a cohesive quintet on this disc, dovetailing especially well with the bright oscillations of trumpeter Clay Jenkins. Veteran bassist Rufus Reid adds expert support, playing alongside Jim White’s bustling drum work and Dana Landry’s energetic piano. In an upbeat set loaded with memorable themes, the dual-phased “Spiral Staircase” and a lovely version of Jule Styne’s ballad “Never Never Land” are standouts.
Next to the quintessential piano trio, the most favored unit in Modern Jazz has to be the proverbial reed with rhythm section— exactly the instrumentation on (3). This fifth issue under saxman Don Aliquo’s leadership finds him fronting a trio with at least two names Cadence readers will have no problem identifying: pianist McNeely and bass master Reid. Newcomer Calvaire, appearing
in the drum chair, more than holds his own and has no problem fitting into this swinging machine. The leader is originally from Pittsburgh and now holds a teaching position around the Nashville area. His full-throated tenor exhibits hints of both Joe Henderson and late period Stan Getz. Aliquo contributed seven of his originals to the set list; McNeely wrote the meaty “Hiatus,” replete with
a mighty upright solo from Reid, who penned the lovely ballad, “Caress The Thought.” There are two clarinet outings in “Adagio For Kim” and the fleet “Redemption Blues,” the leader’s woody lic- orice stick getting high marks from this listener who also enjoyed the quirky original, “Lower Burrellian Bicycle Loop.” From the jaunty kickoff “Dawson Street Strut” to the hard-driving “February Regrets,” which wraps up this no-frills disc, this release rates high on the list .
234|cadence |oct-nov-dec 2011
SUN SHIELD-JON POSES REVIEW
Don Aliquo, “Sun & Shield” (Artists Recording Collective) Recently, I discovered saxophonist and clarinetist Don Aliquo, yet another example of a wonderful player who exists under the radar. A second-generation jazz musician, he hails from Pittsburgh. After attending Berklee College of Music and subsequently getting his master’s degree from Duquesne University, he performed for a number of years with various artists, including legendary Pittsburgh drummer Roger Humphries, and then landed at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Aliquo now serves as the school’s director of jazz studies.
Admittedly, what drew me to Aliquo’s latest release, “Sun & Shield,” was not him but rather his rhythm section — each musician is wonderful and well-respected. Normally, I’m suspect of a lesser-known artist who releases a recording that, for better or worse, seems to be anchored, if not “buoyed” by much more familiar and well-respected artists. This happens to some extent with younger players who are trying to get their name out there. It is, in some ways, jazz’s equivalent of baseball’s trading deadline: You pay additional dollars to employ hired guns for the remainder of a season, and then they become free agents.
If you’re Aliquo, why not have pianist Jim McNeely, one of our great keyboardists, bassist Rufus Reid, now flourishing as a leader after appearing on hundreds of recordings in support of people such as Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, and Obed Calvaire, a younger drummer making a solid name for himself as a member of the Clayton Brothers Quintet and other solid ensembles, join you for a session?
This is simply not the case here; Aliquo can and does play. He’s no newbie or neophyte — that’s for sure. He has got a big, deep, developed sound. On the saxophone, he is steeped in a tradition that incorporates everyone from Joe Henderson to John Coltrane to George Coleman and, to a lesser extent, another Pittsburgh native, the soulful and original “Mr. T” — Stanley Turrentine. Further, Aliquo displays a great deal of technical capability on both the tenor saxophone and the clarinet. Employing either, he demonstrates a wide range of emotions that take you from the sensitive on “Adagio For Kim” to the full-bore energy of the title track, both original compositions. All but three of the 10 cuts on “Sun & Shield” are Aliquo originals, the exceptions being Reid’s somewhat introspective “Caress The Thought,” McNeely’s “Hiatus,” a bouncy, angular escapade, and Jonathan Wires’ “Once,” a kind of lilting, pensive piece.
As one might imagine, the McNeely-Reid-Calvaire rhythm section is quite up to the task throughout this set, which means, as an added bonus, there are naturally many passages when Aliquo lays out. The result is “Sun & Shield” doubles somewhat as an ace trio session as well as an engaging quartet endeavor.
Tribune columnist Jon Poses also serves as the executive director of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.